Easy, Step by Step, Brine & Roast a Turkey

with bonus recipe for gravy!

Are you intimidated by roasting a whole turkey for your holiday meal? Don’t be! I’m confident that you can make a delicious and savory turkey dinner. You just need the following recipes and step by step instructions. I’ve included tons of photos to go along with the instructions and tips so it’s almost foolproof!

turkey brine ingredients

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Plan ahead.

Planning ahead is key to a successful turkey dinner. Calculate time for defrosting, brining, roasting, resting, carving and then countdown backwards from the time you want to be serving the turkey. By all means, get help with all the sides and desserts!

I like to serve organic, free–range turkey from my natural grocer.

What size turkey?

I’m roasting a 15 lb. turkey, but my instructions and ingredients should be fine for a turkey that’s anywhere from 10 lb. up to 20 lb. You may just have to adjust the amount of water added to the brine mixture. Select a turkey that will feed your guests but that you also have room for brining in the fridge.* Plan one pound of turkey per guest.

*if you won’t have room in your fridge, you’ll have to use a cooler and ice to keep the brining turkey very cold (37° F) for a day.

When do I defrost the turkey?

Defrost your turkey in the refrigerator. It usually takes 24 hours for every 4-5 lbs. of turkey to defrost in the fridge. After defrosting a 15 lb. turkey in the fridge for 72 hours, you can then brine it for a day. 

Why should I brine my turkey?

Brining your turkey before roasting will give it better flavor and texture. You do have to plan ahead and brine the turkey 20 – 24 hours in the fridge before you roast the turkey. Notice I said, “in the fridge.” Make sure you have room in the fridge (or a cooler) for a large pot that can hold your turkey and the brine.

Here are the things you will need to start:

15 lb. defrosted turkey, turkey size oven bag, 12 quart pot (like these), 3 quart pot

ingredients for the brine:  4 cups water, 1/2 T. dried thyme, 1/2 T. dried rosemary, 1 cup sea salt, **if using table salt reduce to 1/2 cup!!** 1/2 c. cane sugar (I use organic sucanat but you can use any sugar), 1 bay leaf, 8 sage sage leaves, 2 tsp. minced garlic, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, large sliced orange and large sliced lemon.

Make the brine.

Boil 4 cups of water. Dissolve sea salt**(sea salt is not as strong as table salt!) and sugar in the water. Add seasonings, orange & lemon slices. Then remove from the heat and let it cool. **If you use table salt, reduce amount of salt to 1/2 cup.

After boiling water, dissolve salt & sugar, then add fruits.

Prep the turkey.

Make sure you have a clean sink to prep and wash the turkey.

Cut open the turkey bag, but save the instructions off the label. The suggested cooking times and temperatures for your turkey should be on the label based on the weight of the turkey.

Cut off the plastic tie that’s probably holding the legs of the bird together.

There will probably be a giblet bag inside the cavity of the bird. The giblet bag in the turkey you buy usually includes the heart, liver, gizzard (a part of the turkey’s stomach), and neck. I toss these items into the bottom of my 12 quart pot (I will also put them in the bottom of the pan when I roast the turkey.)

Rinse your turkey with cold water.

Place a turkey size oven bag inside the 12 quart pot….kind of like you’re placing a trash bag into a trash can. (In the past, I double-bagged the pot, but have since found that was unnecessary)

Lower the rinsed turkey (wings down/legs up) into the pot inside the bag.

Pour your cooled brine into the cavity of the turkey.

The fruit in the brine will fill the cavity of the turkey.

Pour additional cold water, about 12-16 cups, into the cavity of the turkey until it fills the pot.

Now that your pot is filled, some of the orange and lemon slices may float to the top.

Gently close the bag around the turkey and liquid, pressing plastic to the surface to remove any air pockets. Close bag with twisty tie.

This above photo shows when I used two bags in my pot which I found to be unneccesary. One bag is enough as shown in this next pic.

Mr. Turkey may poke out of the brine liquid a bit.

Place the brining pot in the fridge to keep it cold for 20 – 24 hours.

Make room in the fridge or use a cooler with ice.

QUICK TIP: The morning of Thanksgiving, you’ll want to set out your butter to soften, both for turkey and for my super easy gravy recipe (see down below).

No rack? No problem! Use a cake pan to rest your turkey on.

QUICK TIP: When you don’t have roasting rack:

Here’s my turkey resting on a round cake pan as a rack.

As it turns out, the last two times I’ve roasted a turkey, I didn’t have a pan with a rack to roast it on. By the way, I use a disposable foil pan for roasting my turkey. I’ve got two options that will work as alternatives for a rack in your roasting pan! 

Aluminum foil molded into a ‘figure 8’ and a baker’s cooling rack combo can be used to make your own roasting pan rack.

You want to use a rack to keep the skin crispy on your turkey and for more even cooking. One rack alternative, especially if your pan is oval, is to simply use an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan to rest your turkey on. A second solution is to use a cooling rack that’s normally used for cooling baked goods. On top of the cooling rack, you can form a figure eight shape out of aluminum foil to rest your turkey on.

Turkey resting on a ‘figure 8’ made out of foil and then placed on a baker’s cooling rack in the pan.

Prep ingredients for roasting your turkey.

You’ll need softened butter. If you didn’t set out your butter earlier and only have cold butter, use the microwave to soften it, but don’t melt it. Place butter on microwave proof plate. Run the microwave for about 8 second intervals while rotating the butter onto different sides each time. This avoids any ‘hot spots’ that could melt the butter in certain places. Heat until soft but not melted.

Preheat oven to 325° F. Make sure oven rack is on the second level in a conventional oven so that turkey will be roasting in the center of oven.

ingredients for roasting turkey

ingredients for the turkey: 2 large yellow onions, peeled & quartered; 2 lemons, halved; 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, 8 T. softened butter, salt, black pepper, 4 cups chicken stock, giblets & neck.

fruits, onions and rosemary sprigs inside turkey

Remove turkey pot from fridge and carefully (ask a friend to help) pour the liquid out into the sink. If there’s room, you can leave the orange and lemon slices inside the cavity of the bird that were a part of the brine. Some people suggest rinsing the bird after the brine, I choose not to do this, so that’s why you still see bits of dried thyme and rosemary all over the skin.

With the turkey still in the pot (because it’s easier), stuff 2 onion quarters, lemons and rosemary sprigs inside the turkey’s cavity.

giblets, neck etc.. plus onions and chicken stock poured into bottom of roasting pan

Place remaining onion quarters, giblets & neck, and 4 cups chicken stock into bottom of roasting pan. Place your rack on top of these ingredients.

Place the turkey, breast side down,* on top of the rack.

* I start off cooking the turkey breast side down for first hour (read on to find details below for when you flip it over)

This protects the white meat from overcooking and allows it to absorb the juices as they run downward into the bottom of the pan. 

Make sure that skin is good and dry.

Pat dry the turkey very well with paper towels. The drier, the better for the soft butter to stick to skin.

Salt and pepper skin of turkey.

Your best tool for spreading butter…your hands!

Smear softened butter all over the skin of the turkey with your hands.

Ready for roasting.

Pop that bird into the 325° F oven! Well, do it carefully, it’s heavy.

Set your timer for 1 hour. Every hour we check the turkey and ladle the juices all over it.

Okay, now relax a bit…or work on some sides…or work on gravy prep.

Here’s my turkey after first hour. After this first hour, remove the turkey, flip it over so it’s now breast side up. The turkey is very hot so I use my silicone pot holders (or tongs in one hand) to flip the bird (sometimes a friend can help with the flipping).

QUICK TIP: When you don’t have twine!:

Oops…we’re about to lose a leg!

When you flip the turkey over, you’ll probably have a blow out leg and the cavity will be wide open. Now, is when you can tie up the legs.

wrap an aluminum foil makeshift ‘rope’ around legs

Instead of cooking twine, I use foil. You’ll need to take some aluminum foil and make a ‘rope’ of it.

foil holds beautifully

Wrap your foil ‘rope’ around the legs to hold them together.

Now, the turkey is almost ready to go back in the oven for a second hour. But first, ladle some of the pan juices all over the turkey breast skin to keep it moist.

Flipped and ready for a ladle of juices before going in for second hour of roasting.

Put the turkey back into oven. Set timer for 1 hour.

after two hours of roasting

Remove turkey from oven. Here’s my turkey after two hours and the skin is starting to look golden instead of pinkish white.

ladle juices over turkey again after second hour

Ladle pan juices all over the turkey breast skin and put the turkey back into the oven for what could be the final hour!

Check the temperature.

Remove the turkey, after the third hour and test the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh 

check thigh but don’t hit the bone

…as well as the thickest part of the breast. The temperature should be at least 165° F

check breast temperature

If the temperature has not reached 165° F but the turkey skin already looks really golden and crisp then lay aluminum foil over the top of the turkey and place back into the oven for 10 – 15 more minutes and test temperature again.

If turkey is not to 165° F yet, but skin is browned, tent with foil before placing back in oven.

All done!

Mr. Turkey is all done and sporting a beautifully golden crisp skin.

All done and beautiful!

Time to let Mr. Turkey take a nap and rest. But first, strain the pan juices from bottom of the pan. (again, a friend may need to help lift and pour, you can move the turkey to another platter to rest) Pour juices into a large heat resistance bowl pitcher, or 6-7 cups of it into a 2 quart saucepan for gravy. Cover turkey with foil until you are ready to carve him up!

Cover with foil and let the turkey rest once it’s done.

Make the best and easiest gravy ever!

Time to make the gravy from the simmering juices out of the pan. Honestly, this is the best tasting gravy ever!

Mix soft butter with all purpose flour

I make a simple gravy by mixing 4 T. softened butter with 4 T. all-purpose flour with a fork in a small bowl.

it will look like a flour paste

Next, I whisk this flour paste into a 2 quart saucepan of 6-7 cups of the strained pan juices (which, remember, also had chicken stock in it) that are simmering on the stove.

whisk paste into simmering stock juices

Heat through until slightly thickened, season with salt and pepper to taste.

cook until slightly thickened

Carve the turkey.

I’m not the best at carving a turkey, so let me send you to some directions. Check out these steps from Real Simple.

I like to carve and separate light and dark meats.

Oh my, it is soooo beautiful. It’s moist and delicious. And that gravy…it’s absolutely divine just glistening all over those slices of turkey.

I hope you found this turkey lesson helpful! Whew! I have to admit this post took a lot of work to write. Please comment and tell me if you brine and roast a turkey this holiday season. And how you loved that gravy…mmmm!

Be blessed,
Momma

Roast Turkey & Gravy

These are the ingredients and steps for brining and roasting a whole turkey. Also included is a delicious and easy gravy made with the roasted turkey juices.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword Brine Turkey, Gravy, Roast Turkey
Author Abigail Aars

Ingredients

Brine

  • 4 cups water, plus additional 12 – 16 cups
  • 1 cup sea salt reduce to 1/2 c. for table salt
  • 1/2 cup sucanat or cane sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 sage leaves
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Turkey

  • 15 lb. defrosted turkey
  • 2 large yellow onions peeled & quartered
  • 2 lemons halved
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 8 tbsp butter softened
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • giblets & neck from turkey
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

Gravy

  • 4 tbsp butter softened
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 6-7 cups pan juices from roasting turkey or chicken stock
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

For Brine:

  1. In 3 quart saucepan, boil 4 cups of water. Dissolve sea salt* and sugar in the water. Add seasonings, orange & lemon slices. Then remove from the heat and let it cool. *If you use table salt, reduce amount of salt to 1/2 cup.

  2. Prep the turkey: cut off the plastic wrap covering on the turkey and remove plastic tie that’s probably holding the legs of the bird together. Remove giblet bag inside the cavity of the bird. Put giblets into the bottom of the brining pot. Rinse your turkey with cold water.

  3. Line the brining  pot with oven bag. Lower the rinsed turkey (wings down/legs up) into the pot inside the bag. Poor your cooled brine into the cavity of the turkey. Poor additional cold water, about 12-16 cups, into the cavity of the turkey until it fills the pot.

  4. Close bag with twisty tie. Place the pot in the fridge to keep it cold for 20 – 24 hours.

Roasting Brined Turkey:

  1. Next day: Preheat oven to 325° F. Make sure oven rack is on the second level in a conventional oven so that turkey will be roasting in the center of oven.

  2. Remove brined turkey pot from fridge and carefully (ask a friend to help) poor the liquid out into the sink. You can leave the orange and lemon slices inside the cavity of the bird that were a part of the brine. 

  3. Stuff 2 onion quarters, lemons and rosemary sprigs inside the turkey’s cavity. Place remaining onion quarters, giblets & neck, and 4 cups chicken stock into bottom of roasting pan. Place your rack on top of these ingredients.

  4. Place the turkey, breast side down,* on top of the rack. I start off cooking the turkey breast side down for first hour. Pat dry the turkey very well with paper towels. Salt and pepper skin of turkey. Smear softened butter all over the skin of the turkey with your hands.

  5. Place turkey into the 325° F oven. Set timer for 1 hour. Remove turkey from oven. Flip the turkey over so it’s now breast side up.  Now, is when you can tie up the legs. Wrap a foil ‘rope’ around the legs to hold them together. Ladle some of the pan juices all over the turkey breast skin.

  6. Put the turkey back into oven. Set timer for 1 hour. Remove turkey from oven. Ladle pan juices all over the turkey breast skin and put the turkey back into the oven. Set timer for 1 hour.

  7. Remove the turkey, after the third hour and test the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh …as well as the thickest part of the breast. The temperature should be 165° F. If the temperature has not reached 165° F. but the turkey skin already looks really golden and crisp then lay aluminum foil over the top of the turkey and place back into the oven for 10 – 15 more minutes and test temperature again. Keep testing every 10 – 15 minutes until at least 165° F is reached.

  8. Once done, strain the pan juices from bottom of the pan. (It’s hot! And a friend may need to help lift and pour, you can move the turkey to another platter to rest) 

  9. Put foil over the turkey until you are ready to carve him up!

Gravy:

  1. In a 2 quart saucepan, simmer 6-7 cups of the strained stock & pan juices on the stove.

  2. Mix 4 T. softened butter with 4 T. all-purpose flour with a fork in a small bowl to make a paste.

  3. Whisk this flour paste into the simmering stock & juices. Heat through until slightly thickened, season with salt and pepper to taste.

  4. Eat and enjoy!

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